Saturday, October 21, 2017

Five Collections of Traditional Tales

Trickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic CollectionTrickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection by Matt Dembicki
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At the end of Trickster, Dembicki’s note explains the why of this collection - to fill a void and create something completely new. Trickster tales as comics are different from how I’ve seen them presented, but the form lends itself well to the telling. While Dembicki himself is white, his "authority" comes as a comic book creator. He states that he worked to find Native American storytellers willing to share their stories, along with artists of their choosing. Each contributor has their own background notes, and general trickster information is given on the back cover copy. This book was written for children and adults, and could be enjoyed as a read aloud/read together as seeing the artwork is half the reading process. There are 21 tales, all varied in content and artistic style, which makes the organization seem more random. The illustrations themselves range from cartoonish to realistic, some enhancing their tale and others not as much.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found The Juniper Tree and Other Tales to be a difficult collection to get into, though I did enjoy the stories I’m more familiar with. This collection, according to the book jacket, intends to restore the selected tales with faithful translations, and they definitely aren’t watered down. The tales are intense, and the narrative style fits the tradition of oral storytelling.Though only 27 out of 210 stories are represented in this collection, they are spread out between two volumes and range from well-known to often forgotten. It seems as though these stories are meant to be read independently of each other, and read aloud by an adult to a child (or just as an adult).There is one illustration for each story; they aren’t particularly integral, though they do set up the scene for the story.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like many folktale collections, The People Could Fly was written to record and preserve oral tales. This is explained in the introduction, along with the way the book is organized (by theme). These four themes group together like stories (about six per theme, for a total of 24 stories) in a way that someone could request one about animals or a supernatural one for storytime. Hamilton also includes source notes in the introduction, going into more detail at the conclusion of each tale. She makes it clear she wants to keep the style, while also telling the tales in her own voice. The stories themselves are intended for the adult storyteller, with illustrations every few pages to enhance the stories.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Both entertaining and educational, Tales Our Abuelitas Told is just as the title states - both authors share stories they grew up with, including source notes, background information, and their personal relationships to the tales. These stories are traditional, each originating from a different location, though some have been revised or are composite tales, mixing similar stories told in several countries. This collection was my favorite of the four I read for class, and the narrative style really lends itself to storytime. Though there are only 12 tales collected, their themes and content vary so that each one can be told independently. The illustrations are colorful, highlighting details of each story.

Mysterious Tales of JapanMysterious Tales of Japan by Rafe Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This collection, which I read in addition to the above, is meant to embrace the “fleeting yet haunting beauty we know from life,” and is filled with spiritual tales - ghostly, eerie, and refreshing. Martin invites readers to “walk in the moonlight of imagination” as they read stories from the Zen, Buddhist, and Shinto traditions. Most stories were originally collected in the early 1900s, though Martin infuses them with his own style, and each story concludes with a note on its origin. Jesus and I read one of these each night (or rather, I read to him) until we finished the collection, and experiencing the tales at that pace was perfect for cool fall nights.

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Questioning Library Neutrality

Questioning Library Neutrality: Essays from Progressive LibrarianQuestioning Library Neutrality: Essays from Progressive Librarian by Alison Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Are librarians neutral? Should they be?

Some essays in this collection were more useful/educational/entertaining than others. I wouldn't call it a cover-to-cover read, but I think many teachers and librarians could use certain essays to highlight issues in their own classrooms/libraries.

My conclusions after reading/skimming: neutrality is a myth, and even if libraries themselves could pull it off (they can't), librarians definitely aren't neutral. And that can be a good thing.

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Further thoughts on neutrality here, here, and here.

"Neutrality doesn’t encourage our critical thinking; it doesn’t ask us to question facts that are wrong, or behaviors that are prejudiced. By this measure, neutrality doesn’t necessarily reveal injustice but further entrenches it, which is ironic." - Stacie Williams

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Michael Rosen's Sad Book

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not all parents have to deal with the grief of losing a child, but for those who do, the right book can serve as an outlet and reprieve for sadness. Likewise, children who have lost loved ones also need books to speak to their experiences. Adults and children who want a way to talk about grief will appreciate Michael Rosen’s Sad Book: autobiographical, yet universal, it follows Rosen’s journey to grieve his son and helps readers approach difficult subjects with understanding and tenderness.

Written in a conversational tone, this book punctuates descriptions of how grief feels with repeated questions: “Where is sad?” “When is sad” “Who is sad?” The reader is invited to empathize with Rosen, who is depicted in pen and watercolor illustrations on each page, navigating his sadness. Readers will recognize aspects of profound sadness in both the refrain of “Sometimes…” and in the rough lines and muted colors of the illustrations.

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book may not be a cherished bedtime story, or even one that every parent will want to share with their children, but it is a necessary story. It neither trivializes nor dramatizes depression, but instead shares honestly. Rosen’s telling creates a space for other parents to share their stories, and to feel less alone in their grief. It gives words to parents and children who may not know how to communicate what their sadness feels like, no matter what the cause of that sadness is. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Taco Queens and Epic Fails

Stef Soto, Taco QueenStef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer    Torres
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stef Soto wants what most pre-teens want: for her parents to be normal, and for her classmates to accept her. (Tickets to the Vivianna Vega concert would be nice too.)

First thoughts: Stef is a super relatable character, especially for me. She knows that a family business is truly a family business, and when she does homework in her dad's taco truck (affectionately named "Tia Perla"), it reminded me of spending my after school hours at my mom's store. We usually got candy bars from the drugstore down the street instead of fresh tacos, but close enough. She's also an admirable character, but not without faults.

More similarities: When Stef equates art class with autonomy, I immediately thought of my childhood love of reading and writing. Torres truly seems to understand the pre-teen need for a unique identity, and it shows in her well-rounded characters and believable dialogue. Spanish conversations feel natural, not forced, and the dynamics of Stef's immigrant family are authentic as well.

Recommended for: I think most of us would enjoy an afternoon or two with Stef Soto. I'd recommend this to all of my previous students, kids who are still kids but have adult worries, and anyone with interests in municipal policy and how it affects families.

Final thoughts: All ends well in the world of Stef Soto, Taco Queen, but not without struggles, tough conversations, and real life fears. I appreciated the quick, yet thoughtful, pacing of the story - the conflict isn't wrapped up neatly in a few pages, but takes time to develop and resolve. There are important lessons to be learned here, about family, hard work, the "American Dream," and growing up.

The Epic Fail of Arturo ZamoraThe Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Arturo Zamora is excited for his summer, even the dish-washing part, but a smooth talking land developer threatens his fun and his family's business. Can he save the day?

First thoughts: I read The Epic Fail right after Stef Soto, Taco Queen, and definitely felt the similarities (food & family as main themes, young Latino protagonists who must draw on their inner strengths to overcome a challenge and save something important to them...). One more similarity? I enjoyed it just as much.

Authenticity: My biggest gripe with children's fiction is its believably, and I'd say the plot, characters, and setting of TEFOAZ are all believable. Cartaya writes dialogue I could totally picture my students saying. Yes, the plot is spectacular, but again, Arturo struggles with the main conflict and works to solve it in ways that a pre-teen with his resources could do.

Recommended for: My middle schoolers, any school-aged kid living in Logan Square or one of the other many neighborhoods undergoing gentrification, people looking for an underdog to root for, fans of Stef (of Stef Soto, Taco Queen) or Junior (of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian).

Final thoughts: A fun and fast read. Plenty of heart, plenty of culture, a hero to cheer for, and a villain you can't wait to see fail.

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Banned Books Week

Happy Banned Books Week!

Let's talk about reading and censorship of kids' books. More specifically, let's talk about trying not to censor the books that kids are reading. If kids are reading, they're learning. They're learning words, sentence structure, and paragraph composition. They're learning about plot and conflict, exposition and resolution. When they get invested in the story and the characters, they're learning about empathy, inclusion, stamina, and problem solving. Most importantly, they're learning about themselves.

Plus, as soon as a book is challenged, its popularity with kids and teens skyrockets. Want a 12-year old to read something? Tell them it's off limits. If book bans and challenges were really about protecting children, they wouldn't put the offending book in the spotlight.

Yes, words and books can be powerful, but let's not turn them into representations of evil. If we as adults can read and view things that we don't agree with, coming up with our own opinions of what we consume, why can't kids learn to do the same? Parents, teachers, and librarians should show kids how to read things that are challenging and teach them to shape their own worldviews in relation to what they read. When kids learn about difficult subjects in books and with the guidance of a trusted adult, they can wrestle with conflicting thoughts intentionally, instead of on their own and on the fly.

More about why kids should read banned books and why illustrated books are challenged so frequently.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

A Closer Look at Librarianship

The Heart of Librarianship: Attentive, Positive, and Purposeful ChangeThe Heart of Librarianship: Attentive, Positive, and Purposeful Change by Michael Stephens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great companion to class discussions and readings, giving me plenty to think about as I continue my journey to librarianship.

First thoughts: Several times parts of the book echoed class discussions, especially about the evolution of librarianship. There is lots of mention of leadership and management, plus how to work with technology - all classes I still have coming up - so I was particularly excited to read about those topics.

Favorite quotes:

"No amount of training or professional development can move us forward if an individual is uninterested in learning or growing. I'd argue for two vital traits that will serve librarians well throughout their careers. Longtime librarians, mid-career folks, new hires, and students, I'm talking to you! The traits are simple yet pack a powerful punch: curiosity and creativity."

"Beginning this learner's journey in library school should be a given....'Follow your curiosity' is my answer when students ask me what emerging ideas and tech they should focus on. This emphasis on learning will carry our graduates forward into their positions." (This made my heart soar as a subscriber to the Follow Your Curiosity life motto.)

Career thoughts: As someone who's never quite known what she's wanted to "be" when she grows up, so far librarianship has offered me the most. Part social worker, part teacher, part book reviewer - these are all the things I've already committed my life to. Life is wild and wonderful sometimes.

Recommended for: library students, library teachers, librarians at all stages of their careers.

Final thoughts: I'm so glad I picked this book up before the start of my fall semester. It was the perfect motivator for jumping back in to classes and keeping my focus on the purpose of all this reading, discussing, writing, and learning.

The New Librarianship Field GuideThe New Librarianship Field Guide by R. David Lankes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First thoughts: This book reaffirmed things I've learned already in library school, and reminded me of other concepts I'm excited to learn more about.

Favorite quotes:

"Let's face it, if you're reading this, you are either are or want to be a librarian." (guilty)

"The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities."

Career thoughts: Librarians are in the knowledge business, not the information business, and knowledge is a conversation. A conversation leading to creation, which is the purest form of creativity I can think of. I'd love to be a part of those conversations in the future.

Recommended for: library students, library teachers, librarians at all stages of their careers.

Final thoughts: One of the best points this book made for me was in the admittance of mistakes librarians of the past made (and those present librarians make, and the ones librarians of the future will make) - Lankes says we honor these librarians by questioning and improving their systems. It does no good to pretend libraries were always beacons of democracy, or to assume that all librarians always have the best interests of their communities in mind when making decisions, but if enough librarians and library members take the time to understand why decisions were made, and when it's time to change things up, libraries will continue to stand for equality and access for everyone.

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Saturday, September 16, 2017


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story of Blade Morrison, newly graduated son of a rock star who wants to know where he fits both in his family and in life, told in poetic verse.

First thoughts: I both read the print version of Solo along with listening to the audiobook - and I highly recommended listening. This is a musical story - the playful language deserves to be heard. It's always a treat to hear the author read their own works, and Kwame Alexander doesn't disappoint. Novels told in poetic verse are always going to be some of my favorites.

Favorite quotes:

"It is a good feeling
not to be recognized
and still noticed."

"It's as awkward
as things can get.
But I hear grace
can feel
that way
at first."

Bonus!: The audiobook version comes with recordings of the original songs Blade writes, performed by Randy Preston. I loved the originality of this detail, and how it really cracks open what a "book" can be. Why wouldn't a story about a young musician growing up in Hollywood include his songs as well?

Recommended for: high school seniors (or juniors or sophomores or even freshmen) and their parents, people who feel like outsiders in their own families, music lovers, world travelers, readers of celebrity gossip, and rockers young and old.

Final thoughts: Solo is sweet, yet it hits hard when it needs to. The audiobook is both powerful and fun.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Librarian Blueprints: Two Book Reviews

This Is What a Librarian Looks Like: A Celebration of Libraries, Communities, and Access to InformationThis Is What a Librarian Looks Like: A Celebration of Libraries, Communities, and Access to Information by Kyle Cassidy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Photos of librarians past, present, and future, paired with their thoughts on what it means to be a librarian.

First thoughts: This was a very inspiring read for the beginning of a new semester of library school! The longer essays by librarians and the people who love librarians (Hello, Neil Gaiman!) were interesting as well.

Recommended for: library lovers, library students, and library skeptics.

Final thoughts: A fun, informative, and timely look at all the ways there are to be a librarian. This would make a great coffee table or lobby book - easy to dip in and out of, with wonderful photo spreads.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A practical guide for librarians looking to step up their game in various areas.

First thoughts: This read like an insider's guide, or a playbook for more established librarians who need to freshen up their skills. It had practical advice and info, but as a library student it wasn't anything new that's not already being taught in my current classes.

Recommended for: Any librarian looking to shake things up a bit, or re-motivate themselves after getting stuck in a routine, library directors and managers hoping to keep their staff in top librarian shape.

Final thoughts: Less learning about becoming a library than improving current librarianship - it's possible I revisit this (or an updated edition) in the future, but not a whole lot I could take action on in my current position.

Saturday, September 2, 2017


S.S. by J.J. Abrams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A story in the margins of a story about another story...S. is beautiful, intricate, and, sometimes confusing, but a joy to read as a librarian-in-training.

First thoughts: It's so hard to just read the book, without reading all the margin notes left by previous readers Jen and Eric or getting lost in the lore surrounding the whole thing. With J.J. Abrams involved, of course there are layers upon layers of story.

How do I read this book?!: I don't think there is any right or wrong way to read S. Read it all, all at once, or try to go layer by layer - either way you'll still have to piece things together. Don't forget about all the inserts! (My copy didn't have them included, since it was from the library, but I found a website that described them all.) Personally, I started reading EVERYTHING on each page, but felt like certain events were being spoiled before I had context for them, so then I split the book up into about 4 different readings. First, the actual typed pages of The Ship of Theseus, the story of a man searching for his identity. Then I went back to read each set of notes left by "Eric" and "Jen," focusing on the different sets of pen/pencil colors they used to read semi-chronologically.

Wait, what?: Yes, I was confused pretty much the whole way through...this blog helped me a lot! I had little to zero idea what the "real" story of The Ship of Theseus was until I read Eric and Jen's notes, and their notes I needed outside context to fully grasp. Whew!

Favorite quotes:

"We create stories to help us shape a chaotic world ,to navigate inequities of power, to accept our lack of control over nature, over others, over ourselves."

"Really: we imagine ourselves to be so well-contained, so clearly defined, so individually integrious yet it takes so little to open us up, to send us spilling outward or to introduce something foreign and toxic."

Character thoughts: Eric's first (penciled) notes remind me of me taking notes - some personal, lots of similar themes pointed out, mildly embarrassing to read back after several years... A lot of Jen's notes were relatable too, in her conversations with Eric, along with her library science leanings and her romantic side.

Writing thoughts: This book must have been so much fun to write. Fun and frustrating - adding in notes to a story you've written, being able to make sure your reader takes note of what you want them to, but also having to keep all the narratives straight!

Recommended for: Durst and Abrams write for people who love a puzzle, anyone who analyzes all parts of their life, and those who need a deep dive escape into reading. Librarians and librarian types will appreciate the game of reading and figuring out the book, as will anyone involved in other ARG-type experiences.

Final thoughts: S. is a book that sticks with you. The concept is better than the actual story, I think, and really truly works because of the margin notes, but I always welcome novelty in my reading. It's refreshing to know there are always different ways to write and consume books!

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Saturday, August 26, 2017


Legend (Legend, #1)Legend by Marie Lu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a post-USA world, two teenagers find that what makes them enemies also makes them natural allies.

First thoughts: An interesting concept, one that is worth exploring and developing more - hence why Legend is part of a trilogy. Including more of the central conflict earlier in the story would have helped convince me to keep reading, though. I'm not sure I care enough yet to want to continue the story, even though I think the "good stuff" is still coming.

YA thoughts: I love me a good YA read. Exploring current conflicts in a future/dystopian/alternate reality makes for fun reading. I'll suspend my disbelief for a lot of things - a country's history that no one remembers (oh wait... #2017problems), technology that gives minors all the advantages of a mastermind criminal, military-style trials forced on populations...but you lose me at underdeveloped characters and rushed romances. Teenagers/young adults reading: call me out if you're into the premature feelings and I'm being a Scrooge, but I was 13 once and I don't remember needing my protagonists to fall in love. On the other hand, the action scenes are well written - those shone for me while the love scenes fell flat. With more action and a quicker arrival at the crux of the conflict, I'd already be done with the second book.

Recommended for: Legend has become a pretty well known dystopian YA novel, so it's appropriate for a person hoping to become a youth librarian to become familiar with it. Unless you fit that description, or you've exhausted all other YA resources, I'm sure there are others books you could get lost in.

Final thoughts: This was probably a bigger hit in 2011. In 2017, it needs more.

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Librarian Memoirs

Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison LibrarianRunning the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An obituary writer needing a life change shares the story of his professional and personal development during his time as a prison librarian.

First thoughts: I got Orange is the New Black vibes from this. And lots of reminders of my time as both a social worker and teacher - the coded language, use of names (first name vs ms last name), being friends vs acquaintances. There's a similarity in boundary setting, even if the environments are (hopefully) different. I also thought a lot about how Steinberg reacted to certain things versus how a woman in his situation might (or if a woman would even be put in similar situations).

Favorite quotes:

"But the library was different: it was a place, a dynamic social setting where groups gathered, where people were put into relation with others. A space an individual could physically explore on his own." (There is freedom in libraries.)

"True librarians are unsentimental. They're pragmatic, concerned with the newest, cleanest, most popular books. Archivists, on the other hand, are only peripherally interested in what other people like, and much prefer the rare to the useful." (Uh oh, am I an archivist?)

Recommended for: I think a lot of people could benefit from reading this, but people who are already interested in libraries, librarians, and the prison industry will enjoy Steinberg's stories.

Final thoughts: Made me think. About what I could and could not do in Steinberg's position. About the point of prisons. About the point of libraries. About the absurd beauty of prison libraries. About programs like Chicago Books to Women in Prison.

The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of FamilyThe World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family by Josh Hanagarne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hanagarne discusses his childhood and how he came to be a librarian, with entertaining bits from the library world.

First thoughts: This book was gripping, yet light. I found myself enjoying the present day story more than childhood flashbacks. I appreciated the Library of Congress subject headings as themes for each chapter.

Favorite quotes:

"As a breed, we're the ultimate generalists. I'll never know everything about anything, but I'll know something about almost everything and that's how I like to live." (Me too.)

"Test everything that can be tested. As soon as you think you know something, that's when you stop questioning it. Understanding kills curiosity." -Adam Glass

Recommended for: book people, Jacks & Jills of all trades, anyone with a passing interest in Mormonism, Tourette's, or librarianship.

Final thoughts: I was a little annoyed at him asking for an application and getting a job.! But overall, good thoughts on what it means to be faithful or brave or strong or a librarian.

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Double Bind

Double Bind: Women on AmbitionDouble Bind: Women on Ambition by Robin Romm
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Essays on ambition from women in all walks of life - if you have emotions about ambition, there's an essay for you here.

First thoughts: This book gave me some feelings, or at least it brought out feelings I'd already had. Am I ambitious? Do I care about ambition?

Favorite quotes:

"There are infinite facets." -Robin Romm (There are so many ways to be a woman, to view ambition...and we're still surprised that we're not all the same.)

"I and mine are not lean-in women. Mine is a long and illustrious heritage of elegant survivalists and creative realists." -Ayana Mathis

"That's enough being scared, they'd say. We didn't do all of this struggling so you could just give up. Get up now. Take a step. Then another. Then another, like we did." -Ayana Mathis

"What I want - interesting problems, inspiring people, chances to steer old conversations in new directions - is happening all around me, all the time." -Evany Thomas

"I get that my foremothers and sisters fought long and hard so that my relationship to ambition could be so...careless. I get that some foremothers and sisters might read me as ungrateful because I don't want to fight their battles, because I don't want to claw my way anywhere." -Elisa Albert

"Taking care of myself and my loved ones feels like meaningful work to me, see? I care about care. And I don't care if I'm socialized to feel this way, because in fact I do feel this way." -Elisa Albert

"I write to make sense of things, to make order from chaos, to make something from nothing." -Elisa Albert

Recommended for: women, men, ambitious types, passionate folks, cautious and creative individuals, anyone interested in humans.

Final thoughts: Why do women in particular have such strange relationships with ambition? What does that elusive word even mean? This book asks more questions than it answers, and asks them specifically to the reader, showing how personal ambition really is.

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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Letter to a Future Lover

Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in LibrariesLetter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries by Ander Monson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Collected essays inspired by the things left in library books - this is the type of book I'm always drawn to, the type that I could see myself writing, and yet Monson's take was worlds different from what I expected.

First thoughts: There are moments of genius in these essays. Other times, I'm confused. I know they weren't originally bound and ordered this way, so I wonder if there's an order to the essays that would reveal a different narrative. I found some of the topics extremely interesting with my 1.5 class library school background.

Favorite quotes:
"Each book in which you lose yourself equals ten thousand you will not have time to read." (bittersweet!)

"Own the ways we break, it seems to say: understand that the fault lines of a mind or body are individual, and honor them."

"We often move through books more quickly than is wise." (guilty)

"Everything we've written, what we've read, what we've collected, what we've bookmarked on what pages, what notes we left pressed herein, what we have included, discarded, defaced, lost and then replaced, how it's filed and organized: it's all a carrier, a vector, an edifice of us."

Recommended for: librarian wannabes, love letter leavers, organizers, memory keepers, collectors, and romantics.

Final thoughts: Hmm. An interesting book to dip into, and a solid short-but-slow read, if that's what you're feeling.

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Friday Night Links 40

We've made it - I'm officially 29, that magical age that so many women claim to be. (Is that still a thing? It definitely was when I was younger.) When I turned 28, I committed to following my curiosity, and I think we can all agree I did just that. The end of my teaching fellowship brought on lots of questions about my future plans, but a few of the biggest (for me) were "Do I want to be a librarian?" and "How do I become a librarian?"

If I'm being honest with myself, that's been my dream for a while now, and going back to school became step one in the process. Taking a step away from blogging to focus on schoolwork was step two. I'm figuring out the rest of the steps as I go, and stocking up on some wisdom for the journey. Here's where my attention is these days:

I'm truly hoping that this article rings true this year. I think I can feel a glimmer of it.

I've got a year to actually get into the habit of flossing, I guess.

Things a 31 yr old is learning...and things a 29 year old could take to heart.

Feeling similarly at 29...I think I know what I want to be, now I just have to get an employer to agree.

Saturday, July 29, 2017


Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined AmericaBright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An in-depth look at the "power" of positive thinking, and what it's done to America, by the author of Nickel & Dimed.

First thoughts: While I appreciate all the work Ehrenreich clearly did for this book, I got a bit lost in all the referenced studies and histories of positive psychologists. I agree with her basic points, so that kept me with the book, but sometimes it felt like it took her a while to get to those points.

Favorite quote: "A vigilant realism does not foreclose the pursuit of happiness; in fact, it makes it possible."

Recommended for: People wondering why their positive outlook isn't working, realists, and those who think they can attract wealth by thinking about it.

Final thoughts: Ehrenreich's send off is essentially to make heaven on Earth - instead of drawing into ourselves to think our way to happiness, we should work to make the world around us a better place. This seems like such a simple solution, but one that many people (myself included) don't come to on their own. I wish this sentiment had been introduced earlier in the book, and then reinforced in each chapter. It's a beautiful idea, and one that I think most happiness seekers can get behind.

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

How to Find Fulfilling Work

How To Find Fulfilling WorkHow To Find Fulfilling Work by Roman Krznaric
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A quick, if simplified look into what makes work "fulfilling" - and if that is even a worthy ideal to want.

First thoughts: I was ready for this to be a fluff read, but the idea of the luxury of fulfillment is brought up on page one, which I appreciated. I'm lucky that my general career path has been meaningful, even if not always the most lucrative. I just want it to stay meaningful!

Career thoughts: What's most frustrating about reading this is knowing what the fulfilling work of your life has been/could be, but needing an employer to agree and hire you.

Favorite quotes:

On growing into your vocation: "Simply by devoting ourselves to work that gives us deep fulfillment through meaning, flow, and freedom....Over time, a tangible and inspiring goal may quietly germinate, grow larger, and eventually flower into life."

On fears and inhibitions: "Yet if we are to move beyond them, if we are to cut the rope and be free, we need to treat life as an experiment and discover the little bit of madness that lies within us all."

Recommended for: thinkers and dreamers, time-clock watchers, those in the midst of a mid-life crisis, and employers.

Final thoughts: This took me about a day to read. It has a few good thoughts, nothing Earth-shattering, but still affirming to read!

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Museum of Contemporary Art: Murakami

I've lived in Chicago for almost seven years, and this past weekend I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art for the first time! My fiance isn't huge on the concept of "contemporary art," and I'm not passionate about it, so it hasn't been high on our list of things to see, but their current Murakami exhibit beckoned us to finally check a look.
One of the things about contemporary art is it's always changing (to be contemporary, ya know), so none of the exhibitions at the MCA are permanent. Right now (and until September 24), Murakami is the anchor exhibit, taking up most of the top floor, but smaller galleries on the lower floors were...interesting as well.

If I'm being honest, it was difficult to take some of the pieces seriously in these smaller galleries. At times, I literally looked around me to see if we were all being punk'd. While the spaces, how they were arranged, and the presentation of the art were all seamless and effective, I wasn't as immersed in the emotion or talent of the art as I have been at other museums. I mean, there was literally a collection of contact lenses in one of the galleries. This is just a clay bowl with an imprint of a debit card in it. It felt too come mierda (as a Puerto Rican would say) to have a reaction other than "Hmm." I don't doubt that what's in the museum is art, but it's more commentary and statement than art for art's sake.

Takashi Murakami though, didn't disappoint. Neither Jesus nor I knew who he was before seeing his works at the museum, other than that he is Japanese and has collaborated with Kanye West. The entire gallery read like a visual autobiography, tracing Murakami's artistic journey to the creator he is today. I'm always a sucker for diverse portfolios and seeing how an artist (of any kind) evolves. Moods and phases are obvious in retrospect and you can further appreciate recent works knowing where they came from. Murakami is a contemporary artist, yes, but his influences reach deep into Japanese history. Add that to his own personal history, and all those layers add up to a wonderful viewing experience.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Ptolemy's Gate

Ptolemy's Gate (Bartimaeus, #3)Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The final installment of The Bartimaeus Trilogy (which I finally read!) doesn't disappoint, but it does take some commitment. At 501 pages, this wasn't a flimsy read, especially considering it's been over 10 years since I read the second book and even more since the first.

First thoughts: I miss YA - note to self to read more of it! Reading this reminded me of all the joys of reading as a teenager: getting involved in fantastic worlds full of dynamic characters, losing track of time, creating my own fan fictions.

First thoughts 2.0: Did I wait too long to read this? It took me a bit to remember who characters were and where we last saw them. This isn't a fluffy trilogy - especially this last book - so it helped me to re-read at least the summaries of the first two books.

Favorite quote: "It's not about doing. It's about being. Don't expect to understand it: you're a human - you can only see surfaces, and then you want to impose yourself upon them."

Themes: the messiness of humanity, the balance between spontaneity and legacy, the impermanence and resilience of life.

Recommended for: any YA buffs, teachers, fans of Harry Potter/Charlie Bone/etc, parents with tweens & teens, and young adults, of course.

Final thoughts: I have to give this book five stars, despite a slow start. I'm satisfied with how the whole trilogy ended, and can't think of anything I'd change, except to know more (aka, continue the series). I guess I'd change my own reading so that I read all three books closer together!

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Saturday, July 1, 2017

All These Wonders

The Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories about Facing the UnknownThe Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories about Facing the Unknown by Catherine Burns
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A collection of stories told on various Moth stages, all relating to the theme of "Facing the Unknown" and including storytellers old, young, familiar, and fresh.

First thoughts: This book is beautiful, heartbreaking, and timely. What better time to read about facing the unknown than when staring down the unknown? It's a humbling feeling to know you're not alone, or that different from a wide variety of other humans.

Favorite quote: "Honesty matters. Vulnerability matters. Being open about who you were at a moment in time when you were in a difficult or an impossible place matters more than anything." - Neil Gaiman, foreword

Storytelling thoughts: While The Moth is about live storytelling more so than reading, I was still so moved by the emotions of the tellers. I can only imagine how powerful it is to be in the room when the stories are being told. Luckily, there are Moth events in Chicago, so someday (as soon as this month!) I can be in the room. For those who don't live near a city where they have live events, there's always the Moth Podcast or Radio Hour. And for those who don't do podcasts, there's this wonderful book.

Storyteller thoughts: I'm excited to seek out other works by the storytellers featured in this collection - some are published authors, others are comedians with Netflix specials, and others have no obvious connection to the storytelling world, except their humanity and a need to share their beautiful stories.

Recommended for: EVERYBODY. This book is now a permanent fixture in my personal library, and I'm going to share it with anyone who says they need something new to read. I can see this being a great gift for graduates or new parents.

Final thoughts: I laughed and cried and felt better about my place on this planet. This will be one of the few books I reread in my lifetime.

Editor's Note: I received a copy of All These Wonders from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More FunThe Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

On a whim, I decided to read this book I added to my to-read list way back when I was deep into yearlong challenges and pursuing happiness - if you're new to either topic, maybe check it out. If not, go ahead and give The Happiness Project a pass.

First thoughts: Yup, these are all ways to pursue happiness. I've done quite a few of what Rubin suggests - some "resolutions" I'm still practicing, others didn't work out for me. So I guess seeing that her journey was similar to mine was validating. I did keep waiting for something bad to happen, as per usual when someone undertakes a happiness quest...but Rubin's life is pretty good to her.

Favorite quote: "It isn't goal attainment but the process of striving after goals - that is, growth - that brings happiness."

Recommended for: Those with an interest in happiness may find some new things to think about here, but many readers will likely be turned off by Rubin's surface-level conclusions and charmed life.

Final thoughts: Rubin's happiness is never really tested - not that I wish misfortune on her - I think I'm more curious as to why someone decided to publish a book about a well-adjusted woman with a home, family, job, health, etc. pursuing happiness. I get that all of these things don't mean you're automatically happy with your life, but shoot. You should be. I wanted more depth - why should I care that a seemingly happy person craved more happiness? Why wasn't she as happy as most people in her shoes would be?

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday Night Links 39

I'm one grad school class down, with 11 left to go. Class readings, discussions, and papers don't leave a lot of time for reading (or writing) for pleasure, which is a bit ironic, but at least homework assignments are interesting. Here are a few resources that I found were pretty legit substitutes for my typical reading:

I definitely had Library Anxiety my freshman year of college.

This is a lengthy survey, but I enjoyed reading the descriptions of different types of library users.

I learned a lot about teen services by reading about what goes into creating it from scratch.

Who knew? Full-time school librarians boost student achievement. (Librarians, that's who.)

Advocacy matters. All librarians have a responsibility to tell the story of what libraries do.

Especially in times of cuts to funding almost everywhere, what libraries do is important to our most vulnerable citizens.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Things My Students Say 7

For the last day of school, my final installment of this series:

Student: Ms. Kaiser, pretend you are an 8th grade girl
Me: ...okay...
Student: What would you want your crush to say to you?
Me: You're a cool girl! I think you're neat! I like you more than Pokemon!
Student: ...Have you ever been in a serious relationship?

Teacher: How would you explain majority rules in simple terms? ...Think of when your family is deciding where to eat.
Student: Mom rules and she says there's frijoles in the fridge.

Student A: Ms. K, do you have a kid?
Me: No.
Student B: She has two!
Me: ....Also no.

At the zoo: Ms. K, the penguins have your eyes!

While tapping on my glasses, which were on my face: "Ms. K, you have glasses?"

Referring to my engagement ring: "Ms. K, that looks like a dinosaur egg. When will your egg hatch?"

Student: Hey, Rachel!
Me: Excuse me?
Student: You're not my teacher anymore. Now we're just friends, so I can call you Rachel.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Reading the Rainbow: Book Recommendations to Celebrate Pride

Welcome to June, which brings all the fun festivals: BBQ, Blues, Puerto Rico,'s a great month for eating, music, and celebrating love and equality. I've expanded my LGBTQ+ reading more and more each year, and it's done nothing but reaffirm my belief in reading authors who aren't (on the surface) like me. Of course, we're all human and deep down, basically the same. We all want to belong somewhere. We all crave validation of our humanity. We all want to be entertained by a great read.

Here's an article with a great starting point for multiple genres of books. I'm excited for the fairy tale retellings! And if you're interested, a few others from my reading list here, here, here, and here. Remember, love wins!

10 Mind-Blowing Bi & Lesbian Books

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Opportunity Equation

The Opportunity Equation: How Citizen Teachers Are Combating the Achievement Gap in America's SchoolsThe Opportunity Equation: How Citizen Teachers Are Combating the Achievement Gap in America's Schools by Eric Schwarz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eric Schwarz, founder of Citizen Schools, shares his vision for a world where every day citizens work with schools and teachers to ensure all students have access to the social networks and influence of a diverse array of adults.

First thoughts: I'm reading this book with just a bit of bias - both positive and negative. I obviously support the mission of Citizen Schools, but I've also seen areas where the organization has room for improvement. It was strange reading this book as a Teaching Fellow, specifically a TF2 (2nd-year) who is leaving the organization in about one week. Then again, it also seemed fitting to read this at the end of my Citizen Schools career.

Favorite quotes:

"Citizen power, properly mobilized, can change the world." (I've seen it!)

"Children who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges." (This is the concept of the inter-generational self, or the idea that we are all connected to and a part of our families, and we are more powerful because of it.)

"Did we really need another database, another evaluation system, another decision-making matrix, I wondered?" (HA - yes, I've had this thought so often the past two years.)

"The problem comes when the externally focused optimist and the internally focused skeptics take their natural proclivities too far." (Balance, people.)

"We need to step into schools with minimal judgment and as much curiosity and energy as we can muster. That's how to change the opportunity equation."

Recommended for: educators, parents, citizens, those with money or time, politicians.

Final thoughts: I never knew the "unofficial" flower of Citizen Schools is the sunflower - okay, there's a lot of things about CS I didn't know before reading this book. Mostly I didn't know how the organization was run/currently runs in Boston, where it started. Boston and Chicago are so very different, so it's interesting to see how adaptable the Boston school system seems to be to the "Extended Learning Time" model, compared with the struggles CPS has to get any learning time. We've got a long way to go before we reach equality in education in this country.

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Wonder Woman (Go See It Now)

Do I even need to write a review of this movie? Just go see it, people. The numbers don't lie.

Wonder Woman was, yes, a brilliant female-led film. But it was also a quintessential summer blockbuster. It did so many things so right while also staying true to the superhero genre in all the best ways. I laughed. I cried. I left the theater feeling so empowered I felt like I could take on the world.

This tweet sums it up best for me:

YES. That's exactly it, right there. This is why we need more movies (and TV shows and books and award winners and presidents...) featuring people who aren't white men. Everyone deserves to feel like they can save the world. Everyone deserves to be the hero. There's room for all of us on the big screen.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Chosen

The ChosenThe Chosen by Chaim Potok
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Part baseball, part religion, part exploration of the weight of parental expectations.

First thoughts: This book took me a long time to read because it took me a long time to get into it and understand what the point is. After finishing, I'm still not sure how impactful the book is to me personally. I wanted to know what was going to happen, but didn't know where it was going most of the time.

Favorite quotes:
"Anything that brought the world together he called a blessing."

" you grow older you will discover that the most important things that will happen to you will often come as a result of silly things."

Librarian thoughts: The one point of access I had to the story was in thinking about censorship of books, especially for youth. How important is it to steer kids towards/away from certain books? Who decides what is appropriate for kids to read: teachers, parents, the kids themselves?

Recommended for: This book was probably not written for me, so take this review with a grain of salt. I think baseball fans will get into it quicker than I did. Jewish people will understand most of it better than I did. Anyone who is knowledgeable about religions, Judaism in the 1940s and 50s, or Freud will "get" the conflict of the story in a more complete way than I ever could.

Final thoughts: Ehh, it felt anticlimactic. Like, that's it? After all the build-up of the father-son relationships? Not sure how to feel, or if I feel anything at all. The book shows how doctrine and semantics can divide a group from the inside, yet all I could think as a non-Jewish person/outsider looking in was: how are you two that different? Underlines the importance of focusing on similarities with those we view as distinct from us - odds are others don't see your differences as clearly as you do.

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

What the F

What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and OurselvesWhat the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves by Benjamin K. Bergen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What the F?! ...aka, what a perfect title for a book. Catchy and fun.

First thoughts: This book is super fun, especially to a sometimes sailor mouth (though most don't expect it). I always love having some background on my words, and knowing where the 4-letter ones came from (and why we call them that) only makes them more interesting. There were a few technical parts that I skimmed, but for the most part I was super into reading about how language itself forms and changes.

Profane thoughts: One of the best parts of reading a book about swearing is getting to swear a lot (at least in your head, though I also took extra liberty with reading passages out loud to Jesus). Another good part - finding out how profanity follows specific patterns, even across languages, yet also does its own thing. Did you know your brain reacts differently when it hears swears versus non-swears? We process cursing differently than we do non-profane language. So cool.

Censored thoughts: While I'm keeping this review profanity-free, I also don't condone censorship. Of course, you have to know where you're at and who your audience is, but on the whole, eliminating words doesn't help anything. Listening to others, trying not to offend, and using words that others prefer (specifically in the case of slurs - arguable the most offensive profane words) - these things help us connect with others in ways that censorship doesn't.

Recommended for: Parents and teachers. Wordies, linguists, bibliophiles. Potty mouths and prudes.

Final thoughts: Profanity isn't good or bad. It is what we make it...swear if you wanna, don't if you don't. :)

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ciao WOW!

Tonight was my final WOW! event with Citizen Schools. (For the record, WOW! doesn't stand for anything, it's just the reaction we want our audience to have when they see all the cool stuff our kids have learned and made over the course of 10 weekly classes...although my students did suggest Watch Our Work, and I think that's a worthy option.) In two years, I helped plan four WOW!s, which showcased a total of 36 Apprenticeships (7 of which I personally led). I also managed a group of 30+ volunteers each semester as the Citizen Teacher Lead. Most importantly, 100+ students had the opportunity to learn 21st-century skills from the volunteers - bankers, lawyers, engineers, accountants, computer programmers, motivational speakers, pilots, consultants, data analysts - and share what they learned to friends, teachers, and their families.

As stressful as planning an event like tonight can be, I'm always so excited to see how the kids light up when they have an audience to teach or perform for. In two years I've seen kids publish their own 'zine, build solar cars, raise over 800 dollars for an animal shelter, perform spoken word poetry, investigate a crime scene, present their personal vision boards, invent new ice cream flavors, teach juggling, and share SO MANY lessons learned about aviation, entrepreneurship, coding, networking...the list goes on.

Tonight was truly the cherry on top of a wonderful sundae, and thankfully I have a few more weeks for goodbyes and end of year celebrations!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Day 50

Woooooaaaah we're halfway there, wooaaah....that's all I've got to share. :)

I've written a page a day for 50 straight days, mostly. Once I completely forgot (around day 41) and made up for it with two pages the next day. Once I didn't forget, but I willfully didn't write (around day 43 - last week was rough, guys) and again, made up for it with two pages the next day.

All around, I'd say a pretty successful challenge. If I can do 50 days, I can do 50 more - and now that I've added grad school to my life juggle and things have settled down from the first few weeks of class, writing is finding its space in my daily routine again (instead of me wondering how I'm going to fit it in between practicing cataloging standards and writing discussion posts about library marketing).

What will I do when I reach 100 days? Unsure. I won't force myself to write full pages, but I do find that if I let my mind wander for a few lines I get out all the random schtuff in my brain and I can get on to the real schtuff. And there's something to be said about having a consistent routine. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Underground Railroad

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was hard to do anything library or book related without seeing/hearing about this Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner this past fall/winter/spring. Co-workers recommended it, celebrities praised it on social media, and I was intrigued by a story of a real Underground Railroad - historical fiction with the emphasis on fiction? Sign me up.

First thoughts: Taking the above into account, I was not as excited with The Underground Railroad as I expected to be. It didn't grab me like I wanted it to, and I kept waiting to read more about the railroad itself.

Favorite quote: "A plantation was a plantation; one might think one's misfortunes distinct, but the true horror lay in their universality."

Recommended for: adventurous readers, casual readers, anyone who likes to stay current on reading trends.

Final thoughts: While I eventually got more into the story, the story itself stayed mostly on the surface. By the end of the book we still don't know Cora, and definitely don't know Mabel, Royal, or Cesar. And there's definitely not enough detail about the railroad - Who made it? How does it work? What's the schedule? That's all I wanted to read about. Sadly, I think The Underground Railroad suffers from not setting itself apart enough from other slave narratives - and it had a real chance to do so with the "real" railroad angle. If I knew more about the story before reading I might have enjoyed it more, but I went in expecting both a great literary tale and an exciting, new, different story.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Thoughts on blogging & privacy

This blogger's post on introversion and connection is resonating with me today, but my online silence has less to do with being introverted and more with needing time to figure out what privacy means to me in a period of intense life change. Even coming here to share that fact feels exposing.

I have a few fun things I want to share in the coming weeks and months (so many thoughts on wedding planning and going back to school), but right now I'd rather spend my energies writing offline until I'm sure of what I want to say.

And I haven't forgotten about Photography Month:

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Bad Feminist

Bad FeministBad Feminist by Roxane Gay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to these essays by Roxane Gay over the course of a week, during my walk to and from work. I think that had I been reading a printed copy, I might have skimmed/skipped a few essays that didn't resonate as much with my personal story, but I enjoyed listening to them.

First thoughts: Roxane Gay is so smart. It's intimidating at times, but also refreshing. I'm glad she doesn't dumb things down, but instead makes her reader/listener get on her level. In the same way she's also unapologetically honest, and I had to get on her level to hear her truths.

Essay thoughts: As I mentioned, some essays were more relatable (to me) than others. I've read The Hunger Games, I'm familiar with various pop culture references, and I too am usually the quiet studious one in school. In others, while I didn't always connect with the content (I haven't read 50 Shades of Grey), I still found her commentary interesting.

Recommended for: students, young adults who are figuring out their place in the world, good feminists, hesitant feminists, and people who still cringe at the word feminist.

Final thoughts: There was no universe in which I wasn't going to eventually read or discuss this book - while referencing a lot of current pop culture, Bad Feminist itself has become an item of pop culture. It was only a matter of time, and I'm glad that time was sooner rather than later.

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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Bedwetter, Please: Two Books By & About Comedians

Besides being former SNL cast members from New England and becoming popular by leading comedic television shows, Amy Poehler and Sarah Silverman don't have a lot in common. Their types of humor are vastly different, and their audiences vary wildly as well. Their memoirs reflect their personal styles, and their respective audiobooks, read by themselves, show how important those styles are to how their audiences interact with and relate to them. If you're thinking about reading either Yes Please or The Bedwetter, I'd recommend the audiobook, as both of these women know how to perform, even when they can't see their audiences.

Yes PleaseYes Please by Amy Poehler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First thoughts: I LOVE Poehler reading her own book and bringing in other performers (Seth Meyers, her parents) to read various chapters. It really gives credibility to each individual voice. Poehler's audiobook asides are great extra bits that play out through the entire book.

Favorite quotes:

"You do it because the doing of it is the thing."

"Great people do things before they are ready."

"I tried to tell the truth and be funny."

"Good for her. Not for me." (I've found myself repeating this ever since hearing it, anytime I start to get jealous of what another person(woman) has or is doing.)

"Figure out what you want. Say it out loud. Then shut up."

"Ambivalence is key to success."

"If you can surf your life rather than plant your feet, you will be happier."

Content thoughts: Poehler's memoir does talk about her journey to where she is today, and she has chapters on all the important events in her comedic formation, but this is also a self-help/motivation book (as the above quotes demonstrate). Poehler has plenty to say about her own upbringing and coming of age as a woman writer/actor/director/etc, but she also has a few choice words applicable to any person in the process of figuring out who they are and what they want. I appreciated this relatability, and I think this is what makes the memoir work (for me). Memoirs aren't my favorite genre, mostly because I don't care enough about one person's life to read an entire book on it. When the memoir is elevated to empowerment manual, then I'm on board.

Audiobook thoughts: I'm so glad I chose to listen to Yes Please. Poehler is a performer through and through. Her last chapter is a recording of a live reading in a theater, audience laughter and all.

Recommended for: women, aspiring writers and performers, funny people, fans of SNL and Parks and Recreation, those who need a little pep and pick up.

Final thoughts: Yes, please to Yes Please.

The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and PeeThe Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee by Sarah Silverman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First thoughts: Silverman sure does make a career out of being gross/crude. I'm part jealous, part meh. While it was interesting to hear about her childhood and "backstory," I couldn't always relate to how she got to where she is today (which made it harder to care).

Favorite quote: "Make it a treat." - how to approach life's luxuries so you don't burn yourself out on them.

Recommended for: Anyone who is already a fan would probably enjoy hearing Silverman's origin story, and I think certain young women would benefit from hearing about a public figure's struggles with self esteem, especially around the topic of wetting the bed.

Final thoughts: The Bedwetter doesn't age particularly well - Silverman talks about her role in the Obama campaign and the state of America in 2009, and some passages got a little cringe-y. While there was no way she could foresee the mess we'd be in eight years later, there were parts that were hard to listen to. Also, I don't think I'll ever totally be on board with her voice, which doesn't help an audiobook's case. As a commute companion, though, I could've done worse.

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Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Running Man

The Running ManThe Running Man by Richard Bachman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was terrifying to read in December of 2016, and it's even more horrifying to review in early 2017. In the dystopian future of The Running Man, "the poor are seen more by the government as worrisome rodents than actual human beings." ...Hmmm...sound familiar? This book, written by Stephen King under a pseudonym, isn't your typical Stephen King thriller, but its premise is chilling and more relevant today than ever before.

First thoughts: The Hunger Games meets Blade Runner meets Fahrenheit 451 meets 1984. I was surprised at how familiar Ben Richards' world is. I didn't think a book written in the early 1980s would resonate so well/so eerily today.

Favorite quote: "Protest did not work. Violence did not work."

Reality thoughts: The more I read, the more breaks I needed to take. Things got too real: asthma and cancer on the rise because of pollution, the government hiding information, denying environmental hazards, treating the poor and underemployed like criminals, profiting off violence and got to be too much.

Recommended for: Americans. Specifically ones who thought a racist clown would make their country "great again," those who are starting to see the cracks in the facade, and others who still believe the circus act.

Final thoughts: What was a scary book pre-inauguration is now our reality. The last few chapters had me gasping in shock, not unlike how I read the news these days.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Quiet Advantages: Two Books on Introverts

It's a surprise to exactly no one that I'm a natural introvert who can "behave" like an extrovert when necessary (ie, I prefer to recharge on my own and I work best in one-on-one or small group situations, but I don't shy away from addressing an entire room when my job calls for it). Because I love reading about myself and I've researched human behavior before, this wasn't news to me when I borrowed The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking from the library. I didn't read these books to decide whether or not I was an introvert, but to affirm my strengths and learn new ways to take advantage of the things I do best. One of these books did that better than the other, but both validated my quirks and reactions to the world around me.

(Note for those who aren't familiar with temperament definitions: introverts, in general, process things inwardly and are more easily stimulated by sights/sounds/smells, whereas extroverts are energized by outside stimulation and feel drained when they are alone or under-stimulated. This is a very basic explanation and I recommend reading this article to clarify where you fall on the temperament spectrum.)

The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert WorldThe Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World by Marti Olsen Laney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I started the audiobook version while waiting for the physical copy to come to my library, and when I finally read the text I was surprised at how much I remembered from listening. This isn't a complex book or intense guide on the advantages of introverts, but rather a feel-good (sometimes a little too "feel-good") collection of the ways introverts are just fine how they are.

First thoughts: I don't want to be referred to as an "innie" ever again in my life. Ew. Besides this off-putting terminology, I was underwhelmed with the author's choices. She treats introverts like fragile flowers who need constant pep talks and mental breaks.

Repetitive information: I'm guessing most people who come across this book already know they are introverts, so the checklists and surveys were unnecessary, and the author's insistence that introverts are okay, perfectly fine humans was a little over the top...we're reserved and introspective, not weak/sickly/fragile as the author hinted at.

Useful information: What I appreciated most was the author's suggestion to use body scans to check temperament and energy levels in the moment. I don't always check in with myself during the day, which can lead to wondering why I'm extra tired later on.

Recommended for: Honestly, don't read this if you're just learning about introversion/extroversion - check it out if you know yourself, but want a few extra tips for being introverted at work/in relationships/as a parent.

Final thoughts: More fluff than substance, but a good reminder to take care of myself when I'm out and about.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Based in research and with no shortage of scientific knowledge and character profiles, this book was more informational and interesting than a diluted self-help guide.

First thoughts: Quiet treats its readers like grown adults who want to learn more about the science behind temperaments. It's written for anyone interested in the topic, not just introverts.

Useful information:

  • We introverts naturally "pause to process surprising or negative feedback" which allows us to learn from it. We reflect on what goes wrong in a situation and avoid it in the future, whereas (typically) extroverts move past negative feedback to quickly to learn from it.
  • Introvert Powers: concentration, persistence, insight, sensitivity.
  • A lot goes on under the surface of an introvert's calm demeanor - we may appear to be "zoning out," but that's because we're spending our energy working on complex problems or processing the world around us, not on facial arrangement.

Favorite quotes:

"Sensitive types think in an unusually complex fashion."

"The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you've been granted."

Recommended for: Introverts who'd like extra help figuring out their strengths, extroverts who are confused about why their introverted friends/loved ones/coworkers need alone time, parents, teachers, and other caring adults who want to learn the best ways to allow their children/students to thrive.

Final thoughts: I've always been a lean on my strengths versus work on my weaknesses type of person, and this book helped me narrow in on the strengths I want to highlight as I transition out of teacher life and back into student life. I know what positives I bring to the workplace and to my own studies, but now I know how best to show others my strengths and skills so my full potential is realized.